New signings Will Patching and Darragh Leahy among those on target as reigning SSE Airtricity League champions Dundalk FC eased into the pre-season campaign with a 7-1 win over U.C.D at Oriel Park on a chilly Friday evening in January.
Perhaps it is testament to the connection fans have with this team or the fact that nearly three months have passed since the last competitive football of the season. Both are likely to be contributing factors – but a sizeable home crowd braved the cold for this fixture. The chance too to see new signings surely excited many.
Those who did attend were treated to a goal fest. There were eight in total, including a fine effort from U.C.D’s Colm Whelan which shouldn’t be forgotten. At no point in the game, which wasn’t a contest beyond the 10th minute of play, did Dundalk look to put the brakes on. They surged forward at every opportunity. Key players did not give the impression they were gently easing their way into 2020.
There was intensity and purpose. As well as the two new signings, Patrick McEleney, Georgie Kelly, Michael Duffy (2) and Pat Hoban got in on the scoring act. This was the perfect way to kick off the new season on home soil ahead of a trip to Spain where perennial Champions League participants CSKA Moscow and CFR Cluj await.
Patching and Leahy aside. there were two-and-a-half more new names for fans to take a look at too. Ex-U.C.D midfielder Greg Sloggett impressed in a 45-minute midfield cameo while American trialist Taner Dogan arrived on the hour mark. A Harvard graduate no less, the Missouri born midfielder has previously had trials with St Mirren and and Dundee in Scotland. Ex-Lilywhite Gabriel Sava also came on as substitute. He is back at the club on a trial basis.
The Students, under the tutelage of new boss Andy Myler, started the game well with Michael O’Keane and Evan Weir catching the eye. The former struck a shot straight at Gary Rogers but soon after, Dundalk gained control and McEleney got the lead goal. Famed for his header that won the FAI Cup final in 2018, he scored another with his head past Lorcan Healey. Credit is due to Chris Shields for a perfect delivery.
Five minutes later, Kelly made it two when he headed in from a corner. Whelan halved the deficit with an emphatic penalty area finish but that was the exception to Dundalk’s rule. The hosts went close again on several occasions, notably when John Mountney was denied by Healey and the crossbar. But Will Patching, largely quiet during his first 45 minutes in Dundalk colours, showed why he was rated so highly at Manchester City in the no-so distant past. His stylish chest control and first time finish made it 3-1.
There were 15 changes between the two teams at the break, seven for the Lilywhites and eight for the Students, who made use of their entire bench. The game was only going one way however and Michael Duffy raced through twice, beating Healey on one-on-one situations twice in the space of six minutes, the first via a cheap concession by defender Harvey O’Brien.
Daniel Kelly and Sean Murray added extra energy to Dundalk’s performance upon their introduction. Kelly was denied from point blank range and Murray had a shot easily saved. U.C.D to their credit played some neat stuff at times, something they are renowned for. Their production line of talent shows no sign of slowing down. Kevin Coffey ghosted past two Dundalk players and his shot was the the width of the post wide. Sava didn’t seem concerned.
Dogan’s half hour appearance was unimpactful and he will have to show more if he is to have any hope of earning a contract for the season ahead. Sloggett was better but Leahy stole the show. Having replaced Massey on the hour, he was the game’s standout player.
Dan Kelly went close from a Leahy left wing cross while Dogan didn’t commit to throwing himself at another dangerous delivery from the Republic of Ireland Under 21 full back. Moments later, Leahy had a goal of his own to celebrate and just as the clock ticked to 90 – Hoban got in on the act. He headed in, unmarked, from another superb Leahy cross.
Having emerged as a key man in Stephen Kenny’s Under 21s in 2019, there is little doubt he arrived at Oriel Park highly recommended. Dane Massey may fear for his starting place going forward with Leahy seemingly offering the genuine competition for the left back position in a way that Dean Jarvis never did.
The only disappointing aspect of the evening for Vinny Perth and his team was to see Murray forced off late on through injury. With minutes left and a big lead, there was no need to keep him on. It may be nothing serious. But Dundalk are very much so, laying out for all to see their intention to remain top dogs in Ireland for another year. They start as they mean to go on.
DUNDALK FC: Gary Rogers (Gabriel Sava, 61), Daniel Cleary (Cameron Dummigan, 61), Sean Hoare (Brian Gartland, 45), Andy Boyle (Sean Gannon, 61), Dane Massey (Darragh Leahy, 61), Jordan Flores (Greg Sloggett, 45), Chris Shields (Taner Dogan, 61), John Mountney (Daniel Kelly, 45), Will Patching (Sean Murray, 45), Patrick McEleney (Michael Duffy, 45), Georgie Kelly (Patrick Hoban, 45).
U.C.D: Lorcan Healey (Gavin Sheridan, 45), Evan Farell, Evan Weir (Harvey O’Brien, 45), Conor McKeown (Evan Weir, 65), Harry McEvoy, (Abdul Bapikar, 45), Jack Keaney (Luke Boore, 45), Keith Dignam (Kevin Coffey, 45), Yoyo Mahdy (Sean McDonald, 45), Colm Whelan (Cian Ryan, 45), Michael O’Keane, Ciaran Behan (Danu Kinsella-Bishop, 45).
Elsewhere tonight, Drogheda United went down 0-1 to Derry City at United Park in their first pre-season game of 2020. Candystripes captain Ciaron Harkin’s goal proved the difference between the teams. The Drogs included new signings Ross Treacy, Jack Tuite, Hugh Douglas and Richie O’Farrell in their starting line-up.